LA County OKs $5.9M Payment in Jail Inmate Lawsuit

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $5.9 million payment Tuesday to settle a lawsuit brought by a man who alleged that county jail guards and medical staffers failed to properly monitor and treat him, leading to brain damage that left him permanently disabled.

Juan Isaac Garza was in custody at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in May 2012 when he tried to kill himself, according to a summary provided to the board.

"An inmate in the day room told deputies that inmate Garza was standing on his desk in his cell, falling backwards and hitting his head," an action he repeated four to six times, the summary stated.

Garza, then 22, was then moved into a single-man cell in an effort to keep him safe. He was handcuffed and walked into the cell on his own and a mental health social worker called to evaluate him said she didn't see any signs of a medical emergency.

"Within two hours, inmate Garza was found 'man down' in his cell from self-inflicted injuries, and unresponsive," according to the summary.

A nurse's note said Garza appeared to have had an epileptic seizure and had cuts and trauma to his face.

Swelling in his brain required doctors at LA County+USC Medical Center to open up his skull to relieve pressure.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl asked that the "corrective action plan" -- designed to avoid similar incidents in the future -- be re-evaluated before board approval.

"There's been a big change in the way we've delivered healthcare in the jail," Kuehl said, asking that the CAP reflect current conditions.

The CAP submitted with the settlement recommendation pointed to "the lack of an Inmate Safety Check relating to the deputies' responsibility to call for medical staff when an inmate is man down. In this case the deputy called for mental health staff only."

Safety check policies have since been revised.

The CAP also noted the fact that closed circuit surveillance cameras were not available to watch over Garza as a secondary cause. Cameras have since been installed.

Garza had been charged with attempted murder after allegedly attacking an apparent stranger -- a 54-year-old Eagle Rock woman -- with a crowbar. A database maintained by the Department of Mental Health showed a 2009 diagnosis of schizophrenia, "but with no follow-up or medications," according to the board summary.

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